In memory of Mama Foodie: 5 ways my mom set me up for success after weight loss surgery

Rikki Fernandez Cox (September 14, 1953 – March 29, 2012)

My mother was a goddess.

She had to be, after all, to raise a stubborn, willful child like me.

She was a force of nature. Like the wind. Like fire. Like water. Like earth.

She was so remarkable, that I have decided this year (as of this writing, it is 2018) to start this post about her and add to it each year, on the anniversary of the date she decided to leave us. Because she cannot be forgotten. She is one of the best things this world has ever produced.

So this post will get long and unwieldy after a while. I don’t really care. Read it if you want. Don’t read it if you don’t want. This is for me. Each year I’ll contribute part of what she gave me to share for the world. Here’s the first year.

2019: 5 ways my mom set me up for success after weight loss surgery (and she didn’t even know it)

If you follow me on any of the social media channels where Bariatric Foodie has a presence, you’ll know I like to share my thought processes about my own behavior. I think a LOT. That’s just who I am and how I’m built. But the older I get, the more I realize how my thoughts and my habits were influenced by how my  mother raised me. In fact, there are some key things she instilled in me (some very tactical, others in philosophy/ethics) that help me stay the course even 11 years after my gastric bypass surgery.

So on this, the 7th anniversary of her passing, I offer to you how she set me up for success after weight loss surgery (and she didn’t even know it).

  1. She made me painfully aware of when I made excuses. True fact. When I was a child and my mother felt I was making excuses, she made me recite the following: “Excuses are tools of incompetence. They build monuments of nothingness, and those who specialize in them seldom accomplish anything.” As you might imagine, I recited that a lot as a kid because…well…kids are big old excuse makers! But that did two very distinct things for me. First, it made me very aware of when I was constructing an excuse. Second, it made me avoid constructing excuses. Lastly, it made me own up (even if only in my head) on the rare occasion I let one slip through.
  2. She never introduced the idea that I was anything less than fabulous. If you look in my 2018 tribute, you’ll see that the very first thing she ever said to me when I was born was a statement of how awesome I am and how I fit into the bigger picture of awesomeness that was handed down to me. That didn’t stop at birth. My mother never missed an opportunity to shamelessly compliment me, tell me I’m great, smart, funny, one of the best things she ever did in her life. She did this when I was 350 lbs. and she did this when I was 176 lbs. I knew without a doubt that this woman thought I was the cat’s pajamas! I think that helped me because I haven’t had to fight quite the same self-image battles as other post-ops. Even after losing my hair AND my boobs, I don’t think I’m anything less than that awesome person my mom told me I was, and I fight to hold onto that awesome person every, single day.
  3. She never let me eat/drink together as a kid. Now when I was a little kid I, like many other little kids, could not be bothered to eat dinner. No, no! There were bikes to ride and trees to climb and pools to swim in. When I was little I was famous for trying to get by on three bites food before begging to go back outside for that last bit of sunlight. As a result, my mother usually withheld my drink until I ate a sufficient amount of dinner. She knew I loved that “red” Kool-Aid and she used it as a tool to get me to eat when I was supposed to. Now this may sound like it wasn’t helpful (bribing a kid to eat) but because she did this, separating eating and drinking (a core bariatric rule) was not hard for me at all.
  4. She taught me about rage cleaning. That sounds random, doesn’t it. But if you think about it, at its core, rage cleaning (the act of cleaning when you are really, really mad) is dealing with your emotions in ways other than eating. When my mom was pissed – and I mean really pissed – she’d clean our house top to bottom and blast music while she did it. Somehow I picked that up as a stress coping mechanism. I think that’s part of why I am not a stress over-eater. (My trigger tends to be boredom.)
  5. She shot from the hip (no matter how much trouble it got her into!) Now this was something I used to cringe over when I was a kid. My mom did not hold her tongue at ALL. Don’t get me wrong, she was a super sweet woman, but don’t cross her! And don’t ask her for her unbiased opinion unless you were ready to get it! I’m an extrovert by nature (ENFJ, baby!) and I’m not what you would call shy. Because of her influence I’ve been able to do two things that have served me well these past 11 years: I have taught people how it is acceptable to treat me and I’ve been very clear about when I have been treated in ways that were unacceptable. Like her, I’m not rude. But I am clear and assertive on the things I will/will not tolerate when it comes to how I am treated. And I have her to thank for that.

In general, this seventh year of her being gone marks a turning point for me. The first few years were very emotional for me. I’m still emotional about my mom being gone. I’ve had to go through some of the hardest things of my life with out her. However, it’s different now. I feel like I’ve internalized her spirit somewhat. I can feel her influence in my life, in my person. I feel her presence when I say what she said or cook what she cooked or did anything she did. I’m also beginning to understand my mother more as a woman. I had my first daughter at a year younger than my mom was when she had me. And now I understand a bit what that was like for her, especially as I was coming into adulthood.

So in a lot of ways, I feel more connected to her than ever before. But I still miss her every, single day.

That’s my 2019 tribute. See you in 2020!

2018: The 3 most prolific things my mother ever said to me

My mom had a lot of sayings. Some she got from her mother. Some she got from the Big Book (my mom had 25 years clean and sober when she died). Some she picked up from random people I’ll never know. My grandfather once called me the griot of the family (a griot is a West African storyteller, usually of family lineage). He used to tell me stories and I’d memorize them. Such is the case with the things my mother said to me. Your mother may have said some of these things to you. I’ll share what they were and what they meant to me.

  1. “You are the descendant of kings and queens and noble tribesman. Only God is greater than you.” I don’t talk much on this blog about the experience of growing up black in America. But it is a factor that my mother considered every day of our lives together. From having the “talk” with me (for those who don’t know, that’s the talk most black American parents have with their kids on how to behave if stopped by the police such that you come out of the encounter alive) to making sure I had proper beauty references, my mother wanted me to be proud of my heritage. I was born into a world that was still trying to grapple with the ugly truth of slavery, and didn’t quite know where black beauty fit into the picture. And there I was, this funny-looking, multi-racial, pudgy kid. But it was important to her for me to know that I have a culture. That I come from “good stock,” as she said. These were the first words I heard after I was born. She saw to it. They were also the first words my brother heard. And the first words each of my children heard. She believed the first words you hear in life are powerful, and she made sure to craft powerful words to put into all of us.
  2. “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” This one she got from my grandmother, who got it from who knows where. I’ve heard the saying in other places, but here’s what it means to me. You can’t expect change – good or bad – without change. You can’t just change one part of your life and expect that everything else is supposed to stay the same. That never happens. Ever. Ever! So she used to say that to me a lot. To remind me that if I want positive change, I have to embrace change. That has always been hard for me. But I remember this saying and it makes things easier.
  3. “Excuses are tools of incompetence. They build monuments of nothingness. Those who specialize in them seldom accomplish anything.” I had to recite this when I made excuses as a child. I made my kids recite this. It does two very important things. First, it makes you aware that you are making an excuse. Second, it makes you aware of the nature of an excuse and how it does nothing to benefit you. Throughout my life I’ve made some pretty not-so-great decisions. And as a result, I’ve limited my own choices in life. Instead of berating me, my mother made sure I never made excuses. If there was something I wanted to do, she’d tell me, “Find a way. It’s there.” And when I gave all the reasons why I couldn’t, she’d simply say, “Excuses…”

These and many more things my mother said stay in my heart. I am so grateful for them because they make me who I am today. I am a person who sets goals and achieves them. I am a person who seeks to exude the love she feels for everyone. I am a person who wants to be fair and just. I am a person who will tell you the truth, even if it is a hard truth. I am a person who does not accept accuses but does not see the point in self-bashing.

In short, I am my mother’s daughter.

Until 2019…


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